Daisugi, the 600-Year-Old Japanese Technique of Growing Trees Out of Other Trees, Creating Perfectly Straight Lumber

Image by Wrath of Gnon

We’ve all admired the elegance of Japan’s traditional styles of architecture. Their development required the kind of dedicated craftsmanship that takes generations to cultivate — but also, more practically speaking, no small amount of wood. By the 15th century, Japan already faced a shortage of seedlings, as well as land on which to properly cultivate the trees in the first place. Necessity being the mother of invention, this led to the creation of an ingenious solution: daisugi, the growing of additional trees, in effect, out of existing trees — creating, in other words, a kind of giant bonsai.

“Written as 台杉 and literally meaning platform cedar, the technique resulted in a tree that resembled an open palm with multiple trees growing out if it, perfectly vertical,” writes Spoon and Tamago’s Johnny Waldman. “Done right, the technique can prevent deforestation and result in perfectly round and straight timber known as taruki, which are used in the roofs of Japanese teahouses.”




These teahouses are still prominent in Kyoto, a city still known for its traditional cultural heritage, and not coincidentally where daisugi first developed. “It’s said that it was Kyoto’s preeminent tea master, Sen-no-rikyu, who demanded perfection in the Kitayama cedar during the 16th century,” writes My Modern Met’s Jessica Stewart.

At the time “a form of very straight and stylized sukiya-zukuri architecture was high fashion, but there simply weren’t nearly enough raw materials to build these homes for every noble or samurai who wanted one,” says a thread by Twitter account Wrath of Gnon, which includes these and other photos of daisugi in action. “Hence this clever solution of using bonsai techniques on trees.” Aesthetics aside — as far aside as they ever get in Japan, at any rate — “the lumber produced in this method is 140% as flexible as standard cedar and 200% as dense/strong,” making it “absolutely perfect for rafters and roof timber.” And not only is daisugi‘s product straight, slender, and typhoon-resistant, it’s marveled at around the world 600 years later. Of how many forestry techniques can we say the same?

via Spoon and Tamago

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The Secret Language of Trees: A Charming Animated Lesson Explains How Trees Share Information with Each Other

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe

What shall we read before bed?

Georgia O’Keeffe was a fan of cookbooks, telling her young assistant Margaret Wood that they were “enjoyable nighttime company, providing brief and pleasant reading.”

Among the culinary volumes in her Abiquiu, New Mexico ranch home were The Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School CookbookThe Joy of CookingLet’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Cook Right, Live Longer.

Also Pickups and Cheerups from the Waring Blender, a 21-page pamphlet featuring blended cocktails, that now rests in Yale University’s Beinecke Library, along with the rest of the contents of O’Keeffe’s recipe box, acquired the night before it was due to be auctioned at Sotheby’s. (Some of the images on this page come courtesy of Sotheby’s.)




In addition to recipes—inscribed by the artist’s own hand in ink from a fountain pen, typed by assistants, clipped from magazines and newspapers, or in promotional booklets such as the one published by the Waring Products Company—the box housed manuals for O’Keeffe’s kitchen appliances.

The booklet that came with her pressure cooker includes a spattered page devoted to cooking fresh veggies, a testament to her abiding interest in eating healthfully.

O’Keeffe had a high regard for salads, garden fresh herbs, and simple, locally sourced food.

Today’s buddha bowl craze is, however, “the opposite of what she would enjoy” according to Wood, author of the books Remembering Miss O’Keeffe: Stories from Abiquiu and A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Wood, who was some 66 years younger than her employer, recently visited The Sporkful podcast to recall her first days on the job :

…she said, “Do you like to cook?” 

And I said, “Yes, I certainly do.” 

So she said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” 

And after two days of my hippie health food, she said, “My dear, let me show you how I like my food.” My first way of trying to cook for us was a lot of brown rice and chopped vegetables with chicken added. And that was not what she liked. 

An example of what she did like: Roasted lemon chicken with fried potatoes, a green salad featuring lettuce and herbs from her garden, and steamed broccoli.

Also yogurt made with the milk of local goats, whole wheat flour ground on the premises, watercress plucked from local streams, and home canning.

Most of these labor-intensive tasks fell to her staff, but she maintained a keen interest in the proceedings.

Not for nothing did the friend who referred Wood for the job warn her it would “require a lot of patience because Miss O’Keeffe was extremely particular.”

The jottings from the recipe box don’t really convey this exacting nature.

Those accustomed to the extremely specific instructions accompanying even the simplest recipes to be found on the Internet may be shocked by O’Keeffe’s brevity.

 

Perhaps we should assume that she stationed herself close by the first time any new hire prepared a recipe from one of her cards, knowing she would have to verbally correct and redirect.

(O’Keeffe insisted that Wood stir according to her method—don’t scrape the sides, dig down and lift up.)

The box also contained recipes that were likely rarities on O’Keeffe’s table, given her dietary preferences, though they are certainly evocative of the period: tomato aspic, Maryland fried chickenFloating Islands, and a cocktail she may have first sipped in a Santa Fe hotel bar.

The Beinecke plans to digitize its newly acquired collection. This gives us hope that one day, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum may follow suit with the red recipe binder Wood mentions in A Painter’s Kitchen:

This was affectionately referred to as “Mary’s Book,” named after a previous staff member who had compiled it. That notebook was continually consulted, and revised to include new recipes or to improve on older ones…. As she had collected a number of healthy and flavorful recipes, she would occasionally laugh and comment, “We should write a cookbook.”

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Glenn Gould Explains Why Mozart Was a Bad Composer in a Controversial Public TV Show (1968)

No matter how eccentric Glenn Gould’s interpretations of major composers might have been, his friend and promoter Leonard Bernstein found them worthy of performance, even if he didn’t quite agree. In “The Truth About a Legend,” his tribute essay to Gould after the pianist’s death, Bernstein wrote, “Any discovery of Glenn’s was welcomed by me because I worshipped the way he played: I admired his intellectual approach, his ‘guts’ approach.”

Are these contradictions? Glenn Gould was a complicated man, a brilliantly abstract thinker who threw his full physical being into his playing. When Gould slowed a Brahms concerto to a crawl, so slow that “it was very tiring” for the orchestra to play, he was convinced he had discovered a secret key to the tempo within the piece itself. Bernstein had profound doubts, tried several times to dissuade Gould, and warned the orchestra, “Now don’t give up, because this is a great man, whom we have to take very seriously.”




Not all of Gould’s admirers were as tolerant of Gould’s unorthodox views. In 1968, Gould presented a segment of the weekly public television series Public Broadcast Library. His topic was “How Mozart Became a Bad Composer.” This was, perhaps suffice to say, a very unpopular opinion. “The program outraged viewers in both the United States and Canada, including formerly sympathetic fans and critics,” Kevin Bazzana writes in Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. It would never again air anywhere and was only recently digitized from 2-inch tape found in the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Gould opens the show with a selection from Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Minor, then in his critical commentary, alleges the piece “has had a rather better press than it deserves, I think. Despite it’s gently swooning melodies, its meticulously balanced cadences, despite its stable and architecturally unexceptionable form, I’m going to submit it as a good example of why I think Mozart, especially in his later years, was not a very good composer.” Then Gould really digs in, casually comparing Mozart’s “dependable” craftsmanship to “the way that an accounts executive dispatches an interoffice memo.”

It is a shocking thing to say, and Gould, of course, knows it. Is this hubris, or is he deliberately provoking his audience? “Glenn had strong elements of sportsmanship and teasing,” Bernstein writes, “the kind of daring which accounts for his freshness.” His contrariness might have inspired at least a few viewers to listen critically and carefully to Mozart for the first time, without hundreds of years of received opinion mediating the experience. This is the spirit in which we should view Gould’s erudite iconoclasm, says Library of Congress Music Reference Specialist James Wintle: to learn to listen with new ears, “as a child,” to a composer we have “been conditioned to revere.”

Gould’s unpopular opinions “did not always take a turn toward the negative,” Wintle writes. He championed the works of less-than-popular composers like Paul Hindemith and Jean Sibelius. And his “great sense of inquiry,” Bernstein wrote, “made him suddenly understand Schoenberg and Liszt in the same category, or Purcell and Brahms, or Orlando Gibbons and Petula Clark. He would suddenly bring an unlikely pair of musicians together in some kind of startling comparative essay.” Gould’s musical inventiveness, taste, and judgment were unparalleled, Bernstein maintained, and for that reason, we should always be inclined to hear him out.

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How Glenn Gould’s Eccentricities Became Essential to His Playing & Personal Style: From Humming Aloud While Playing to Performing with His Childhood Piano Chair

Watch a 27-Year-Old Glenn Gould Play Bach & Put His Musical Genius on Display (1959)

Glenn Gould’s Heavily Marked-Up Score for the Goldberg Variations Surfaces, Letting Us Look Inside His Creative Process

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

“The Dark Side of the Moon” and Other Pink Floyd Songs Gloriously Performed by Irish & German Orchestras

The idea of an orchestra performing 1970s progressive rock sounds at first like the stuff of purest novelty. And while the excesses of that movement bent on the artistic “elevation” of rock-and-roll quickly became easy targets, its music has undeniable resonances with the classical canon, broadly defined. In a piece on the modern reevaluation of “prog-rock,” The New Yorker‘s Kelefa Sanneh quotes a Rolling Stone critic labeling the ambitious new sound “jazz-influenced classical-rock” in a 1972 review of the debut album of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who later “reached the Top Ten, in both Britain and America, with a live album based on its bombastic rendition of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.”

King Crimson, another pillar of the subgenre, once played a “ferocious set” that ended with “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite — as an opener for the Rolling Stones. But no band to rise out of the prog-rock ferment has made more of an impact, or more fans, than Pink Floyd.




Their 1973 release The Dark Side of the Moon remains, as of this writing, the fourth best-selling album of all time (to say nothing of its T-shirts and dorm-room posters), and though its ten songs fairly demand tribute, paying proper homage to their elaborate composition and production is easier said than done. Enter the University of Dublin‘s student-run Trinity Orchestra, who take it on in the video above, filmed at Christ Church Cathedral during 2012’s 10 Days in Dublin festival.

“Time,” the best-known of The Dark Side of the Moon‘s album tracks, is here rearranged for a full orchestra, band, and singers, and going by sound alone, you might believe you’re listening to one of the Floyd’s more richly instrumented live shows (not that they were known to skimp in that department). But there’s no mistaking this orchestral version of “Wish You Were Here” (from their eponymous follow-up album) for the genuine article, certainly not because of inadequate musicianship, but because most of the musicians are playing mandolins. Conducted by Boris Björn Bagger, these German players include not just mandolinists but the late Michael Rüber front and center on electric guitar — an all-important instrument, it seems, no matter how far rock progresses.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Animated Video Shows the Building of Prague’s Charles Bridge in the 14th Century: 45 Years of Construction in 3 Minutes

Without massive feats of engineering we rarely notice anymore because they seem so commonplace, the built environments we navigate each day wouldn’t exist. When we do turn our attention to how the buildings get made, we are met with surprises, curiosities, puzzles, moments of wonder. How much more is this the case when learning about fixtures of cities that are hundreds or thousands of years old, constructed with what we would consider primitive methods, producing results that seem superior in durability and aesthetic quality to most modern structures?

Of course, while modern structures can take months or even weeks to finish, those of a more ancient or medieval age were constructed over decades and repaired, rebuilt, and restored over centuries. Consider the Charles Bridge, which crosses the Vltava (Moldau) river in Prague.




Construction began on the famous structure—nearly 1,700 feet (516 meters) long and 33 feet (10 meters) wide—in 1357 under King Charles IV. Forty-five years later, in 1402, the bridge was completed. It was damaged in the Thirty Years’ War, then repaired, damaged in floods in the 15th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and repaired, and updated with more modern appointments over time, such as gaslights. But its bones, as they say, stayed strong.

In the digitally animated video above, you can watch the initial construction process in fast-motion–nearly half a century condensed into 3 minutes. Built by architect Peter Parler, it was originally called Stone Bridge. It acquired the king’s name in 1870. “The low-lying medieval structure,” notes Google, who celebrated the 660th anniversary of the bridge in 2017, “is comprised of 16 shallow arches and three Gothic towers, and lined with 30 Baroque-style statues,” added some 200 years ago. Every building has its secrets, and the Charles Bridge no doubt has more than most. One of the first has nothing to do with hidden chambers or buried remains. Rather, “according to legend, during construction, masons added a secret ingredient that they thought would make it stronger: eggs!”

See more animated videos of vintage construction at the Praha Archeologicka channel on YouTube and learn much more about medieval Prague’s many architectural surprises at their site.

via Twisted Sifter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Chris Matheson, “Bill & Ted” Writer, Talks Cosmic Satire with Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #65

Chris Matheson has written a bunch of comic movies including the new Bill & Ted Face the Music, and he’s converted religious texts into funnier books on three occasions, most recently with The Buddha’s Story. Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt talk with him about what unifies these projects: Why the big ideas of science fiction, fantasy, religion, and philosophy are begging in a similar way to be made fun of.

We get into the big questions: How does humor relate to fear? Would a society based on Bill and Ted (or Keanu Reeves) actually be desirable? How bad is the evident literal absurdity of many religious texts? Plus, the B & T joke that has not aged well, and much more!

A few articles that we found but didn’t really draw on included:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Tom Lehrer Releases His All of Catchy and Savage Musical Satire Into the Public Domain

If the age of American musical satire is behind us, Tom Lehrer may have ended it simply by being unsurpassably good at it. No less a comedy-song master than “Weird Al” Yankovic still walks among us, of course, but he specializes in broad parody rather than biting irony. Despite having retired from public life, Lehrer too lives on, and at 92 has taken action to assure his work a longer existence by releasing it into the public domain. On his official site you’ll see a statement from the man himself: “All the lyrics on this website, whether published or unpublished, copyrighted or uncopyrighted, may be downloaded and used in any manner whatsoever.”

Directly below his message you’ll find a list of nearly 100 of Lehrer’s songs, which when clicked lead to downloadable PDFs of their lyrics, and in some cases their sheet music as well. Ready for you to repurpose are such signature numbers as “The Masochism Tango,” “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” and “The Elements,” a version of the “Major-General’s Song” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance that name-checks each and every one of the physical elements known in 1959.




That Lehrer has also included the “Aristotle version” of “Elements” — in full, “There’s earth and air and fire and water” — just hints at the many playful touches to be found in this collection of materials.

Not just a singer-songwriter but a mathematician who worked at both the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and the National Security Agency during the Cold War, Lehrer didn’t shy away from addressing the technical, the political, and the topical in his music. “Wernher von Braun” sends up the rocket scientist secretly recruited by the United States from defeated Nazi Germany (“Don’t say that he’s hypocritical / Say rather that he’s apolitical”). “New Math” gives a similar treatment to the Sputnik-spooked U.S.’s ill-advised scramble to reform mathematics education, and I got a laugh out of the song in childhood despite growing up long after the retrenchment of New Math itself.

Whether hearing or reading Lehrer’s lyrics today, one marvels at both how they’ve retained their bite, and how widely they were considered too edgy for airplay in the 1950s. The BBC, for example, banned ten of the twelve songs on his debut album, including “Be Prepared,” which spins the Boy Scout’s motto into an ode to misbehavior (“Be prepared to hold your liquor pretty well / Don’t write naughty words on walls if you can’t spell”). But now we’re free to craft new contexts to make them troubling again, and with the holidays coming up, this assures us very Lehrer ThanksgivingsChristmases (“Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens / Even though the prospect sickens”) and Hanukkahs (“Here’s to Judas Maccabeus / Boy, if he could only see us / Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica”) to come. Enter his site here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How the Doors Got Banned from The Ed Sullivan Show (1967)

Getting banned from a venue can hurt a band’s career, but in most every case I’ve heard about, it’s a cloud with a golden lining. Hardcore band Bad Brains built a legacy on getting banned in all of D.C.’s clubs. Elvis Costello’s career didn’t seem to suffer much when he was banned from Saturday Night Live in 1977. Jimi Hendrix’s banning from the BBC didn’t hurt his image any. Then there’s the Doors….

The band earned the distinction of being the first to have a member arrested live onstage in the infamous “New Haven incident” of 1967. Three months earlier, they performed live, no miming, on The Ed Sullivan Show. Things did not go as smoothly as the producers may have hoped,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock. No, Jim Morrison didn’t expose himself or antagonize the audience.




On the contrary, given the Doors’ other notorious “incidents,” the offense is as mild as it gets—Morrison simply sang the lyrics to “Light My Fire” as written, defying producers’ request that he change “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” since it sounded like a drug reference. Not only did they ask Morrison to change the lyric, but they also apparently asked him to sing “Girl, we couldn’t get much better,” which doesn’t even rhyme.

One can see why he would have resisted.

“Band members have given varying accounts of whether they ever agreed to change the line or not,” UCR notes. According to The Ed Sullivan Show site, a producer came into the dressing room, told the band they should smile more, and told them the line was “inappropriate for a family show on national television.” As soon as he left the room, Morrison said, “We’re not changing a word.”

The band went on after Rodney Dangerfield, a last-minute replacement for another comic. They played “People Are Strange,” then the offending song. Dangerfield became a regular on the Sullivan show. The Doors–booked for six more appearances–never went on again, though they had plenty of other TV bookings and wild, disastrous stage shows to keep them busy.

When informed after the show that they’d been banned, Morrison reportedly said a most Jim Morrison thing: “Hey, man, we just did the Sullivan show.”

Watch a clip of the performance just above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Cornel West’s Course on W.E.B. Du Bois, the Great 20th Century Public Intellectual

A giant of 20th century scholarship, W.E.B. Du Bois’ career spanned six decades, two World Wars, and several waves of civil rights and decolonial movements; he saw the twentieth century with more clarity than perhaps anyone of his generation through the lens of “double consciousness”;  he wrote presciently about geopolitics, political economy, institutional racism, imperialism, and the culture and history of both black and white Americans; we find in nearly all of his work piercing observations that seem to look directly at our present conditions, while analyzing the conditions of his time with radical rigor.

“An activist and a journalist, a historian and a sociologist, a novelist, a critic, and a philosopher,” notes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Du Bois “examined the race problem in its many aspects more profoundly, extensively, and subtly” than “anyone, at any time.” And there is no one more fluent in the vernaculars, literatures, and philosophies Du Bois mastered than Cornel West, who lays out for us what this means:

Du Bois, like Plato, like Shakespeare, like Toni Morrison, like Thomas Pynchon, like Virginia Woolf…. What do they do? They push you against a wall: heart, mind, soul. Structures and institutions, vicious forms of subordination, but also joyful and heroic forms of critique and resistance.

West begins his course on Du Bois—delivered in the summer of 2017 at Dartmouth—with this description (things get going in the first lecture at 3:15 after the course intro), which gestures toward the comparative, “call and response,” discussion to come. All nine lectures from “The Historical Philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois” (plus an additional public talk West delivered at the university) are available at Dartmouth’s Department of English and Creative Writing site, as well as this YouTube playlist.

The course follows the movement of Du Bois’ complex historical philosophy and pioneering use of scholarly autobiography—(what West calls the “cultivation” of a “critical self”)—through a number of themes, from “Du Bois and the Catastrophic 20th Century” to, in the final lecture, “Revolution, Race, and American Empire.” It begins with 1903’s The Souls of Black Folk, in which Du Bois first wrote of double consciousness and penned the famous line, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.”

West puts close readings of that seminal work next to “subsequent essays in [Du Bois’] magisterial corpus, especially his classic autobiography Dusk of Dawn (1940),” the course description reads. The latter text is not only a Bildung, a “spiritual autobiography,” Du Bois called it, but also a critical analysis of science and empire, whiteness, propaganda, world war, revolution, and a conceptualization of race that sees the idea’s arbitrary illogic, in the “continuous change in the proofs and arguments advanced.” These ideas became formative for anti-colonial, anti-imperial, and Pan-African movements.

Du Bois’ first formed his “radical cosmopolitanism,” as Gunter Lenz writes in The Journal of Transnational American Studies, during his studies in Germany, where he arrived in 1892 and found himself, he wrote, “on the outside of the American world, looking in.” He returned to Germany over the decades and, in a 1936 visit, was one of the few public intellectuals who predicted a “world war on Jews” and “all non-Nordic races.” But Du Bois not only confronted the genocidal wars and helped lead the liberatory movements of the 20th century; he also, with uncanny perspicacity, both anticipated and shaped the struggles of the 21st. Access West’s full lecture course here.

West’s course, “The Historical Philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois,” will be added to our collection, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to De-Stress with Niksen, the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

Stressed out? Overwhelmed? If you said no, I’d worry whether you have a functioning nervous system. For those of us who don’t get out much now because of the pandemic, even staying home has become a source of stress. We’re isolated or being driven up the wall by beloved family members. We’re grasping at every stress-relief tool we can find. For those who have to leave for work, especially in medicine, reading the headlines before masking up for a shift must make for higher than average blood pressure, at least. Every major health agency has issued mental health guidelines for coping during the coronavirus. Not many governments, however, are forthcoming with funding for mental health support. That’s not even to mention, well…. name your super-colliding global crises….

So, we meditate, or squirm in our seats and hate every second of trying to meditate. Maybe it’s not for everyone. Even as a longtime meditator, I wouldn’t go around proclaiming the practice a cure-all. There are hundreds of traditions around the world that can bring people into a state of calm relaxation and push worries into the background. For reasons of cold, and maybe generous parental leave, certain Northern European countries have turned staying home into a formal tradition. There’s IKEA, of course (not the assembly part, but the shopping and sitting in a newly assembled IKEA chair with satisfaction part). Then there’s lagom, the Swedish practice of “approaching life with an ‘everything in moderation,’ mindset” as Sophia Gottfried writes at TIME.




Hygge, “the Danish concept that made staying in and getting cozy cool” may not be a path to greater awareness, but it can make sheltering in place much less upsetting. A few years back, it was “Move Over, Marie Kondo: Make Room for the Hygge Hordes,” in The New York Times’ winter fashion section. As winter approaches once more (and I hate to tell you, but it’s probably gonna be a stressful one), Hygge is making way in stress relief circles for niksen, a Dutch word that “literally means to do nothing, to be idle or doing something without any use,” says Carolien Hamming, managing director of a Dutch destressing center, CSR Centrum.

Niksen is not doomscrolling through social media or streaming whole seasons of shows. Niksen is intentional purposelessness, the opposite of distraction, like meditation but without the postures and instructions and classes and retreats and so forth. Anyone can do it, though it might be harder than it looks. Gottfried quotes Ruut Veenhoven, sociologist and professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, who says niksen can be as simple as “sitting in a chair or looking out the window,” just letting your mind wander. If your mind wanders to unsettling places, you can try an absorbing, repetitive task to keep it busy. “We should have moments of relaxation, and relaxation can be combined with easy, semi-automatic activity, such as knitting.”

“One aspect of the ‘art of living,’” says Veenhoven, “is to find out what ways of relaxing fit you best.” If you’re thinking you might have found yours in niksen, you can get started right away, even if you aren’t at home. “You can niks in a café, too,” says Olga Mecking—author of Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing—when cafes are safe to niks in. (You can also use “niks” as a verb.) It may not strictly be a mindfulness practice like the many descended from Buddhism, but it is mindfulness adjacent, Nicole Spector points out at NBC News. Niks-ing (?) can soothe burnout by giving our brain time to process the massive amounts of information we take in every day, “which in turn can boost one’s creativity,” Gottfried writes, by making space for new ideas. Or as Brut America, producer of the short niksen explainer above, writes, “doing nothing isn’t lazy—it’s an art.”

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How Mindfulness Makes Us Happier & Better Able to Meet Life’s Challenges: Two Animated Primers Explain

Why You Do Your Best Thinking In The Shower: Creativity & the “Incubation Period”

How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness





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